26 February 2015

U2 - Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me

U2 are a band I have pretty much grown up with due to my dad being a big fan. There's many a time I've got in from school to hear either "The Joshua Tree" or "Rattle & Hum" blasting out while he'd be having a nice cup of tea. I've even heard him sing "With Or Without You" while he's had a few too many beers! If I remember, one of the first CD's we ever got once the household got a CD player was "Rattle & Hum" an album which doubled as the soundtrack to a movie they did about their '87 North American tour. It was a good, if somewhat inconsistent album as it was a varying degree of quality mixture of covers and rearranged rerecordings of existing material. So while "Desire" was a fucking ripper of a song (which I can play as it's only three chords), the rearranged gospel choir version of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" wasn't.

I'm not gonna talk much about the public image of Bono and the alleged and apparent hypocrisy surrounding his work as an activist as I don't want to get sued, but at least he raises awareness to people who otherwise might not get on board for these things.

Throughout the 80's, U2's music was a mixture of social commentary and quasi-religious themed epics, which drew both acclaim and criticism in that they may be a little boring. So it was a surprise when at the turn of the decade when they did both "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa" which showed a more experimental side. This is where this song comes in. Originally recorded during the "Zooropa" sessions, it ended up being left off the album, but released as the main theme for then-new Batman movie "Batman Forever" (In a nutshell - It's an ok film but you could tell the studio were going for a more family-orientated direction after the criticism over the dark themes and violent content of previous sequel "Batman Returns". Val Kilmer was decent as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Jim Carrey just did his usual schtick as The Riddler/Edward Nygma and was very good, Tommy Lee Jones was rubbish as Two Face - all he did was cackle in the background - , Nicole Kidman was just there as the eye candy and Chris O'Donnell was annoying as Robin. Still better than the movie that came after it though...). Obviously needing an official theme, they chose this song - and what a great song to choose! I can remember not really being into the alternative, almost borderline industrial flavours of both "Achtung Baby" and "Zooropa" but this song seemed to rectify that! I'll have to give them another spin. Besides, I'd just got into metal at that time and pretty much ignored all other music.

The song itself is about the life of a rockstar and the pitfalls that come with it (They want you to be Jesus, they'll go down on one knee, but they'll want their money back if you're alive at thirty-three). The song is a mixture of both electronic and string elements which is not only hypnotic but also awesome! The production is great as it hits the right mix of raw and polished. Backed up with an interesting video - not only did it show the obligatory clips from the movie, but it depicted two of Bono's alter-egos from the Zoo TV - The Fly (the actypical swaggering, leather clad rockstar) and MacPhisto (A red and yellow devil) fighting each other in Gotham City whilst U2 play on. It was a great video!

The song was part of the OST of the movie and wasn't actually part of any U2 album, except a Greatest Hits package. If you're a U2 fan whose not yet got this song, then get a copy. If you're not a U2 fan - get this song anyway, it rules!

5 - I wish I had extra ears to love this more.

Chris J.

This song is on iTunes. If you can, get it off a U2 compilation album as it was "ALBUM ONLY" when part of the Batman Forever OST.

I can't find any Sportify for this song bar cover versions. But it's on Amazon: CLICK

(I'm aware that the Batman movie clips are from "The Dark Knight" but the videos with those clips are all out of sync)

Billy Joel - Storm Front

I fancied doing a blog by someone I'd not normally listen to for any length of time. After this, my next blogs are going to be in more familiar terrritory with a couple of Napalm Death blogs, Kid Rock (God help me...) and the new Paradise Lost album when it drops. Well, it's not like I'll be at the gym due to suffering from a viral infection. In fact, I've been told I'm barred until I get better...

Billy Joel has been going for bloody years! His first major hit was 'Piano Man' back in 1973, tis was after spending years in different groups, most notably The Echos and The Hassles. After that, he embarked on a solo career. This would prove successful in it's own right, although there is too much to go into right here, although that we all know he married supermodel Christine Brinkley. She was the high society girl in the video for Joel's song 'Uptown Girl' and also the "girl in the Ferarri" in the comedy movie 'National Lampoons Vacation'.

1989 saw the release of Storm Front (not to be confused with the White Nationalist website of the same name), which marked major changes in both his personal and professional life. He fired his long-time manager due to discrepancies in accouting as well as most of his band. The replacements were hired and the album was recorded. Joel mentioned he was looking for a new sound, although I wouldn't know how this album compares to his other work having never heard much of it. The album itself did rather well, reaching #1 in the US charts as well as receiving five Grammy nominations. Let's have a listen and see what all the fuss is about...

1) That's Not Her Style - Bluesy, bar-room boogie song with harmonica and horn section by the sounds of things. It's supposed to be about then-wife Christine Brinkley. It's not a bad song although it sounds like the theme from an 80's Bacardi advert.

2) We Didn't Start The Fire - Written after a 21 year old reckoned "nothing happened in the fifties", it's a rapid-fire delivery of a number of famous events and people which made headlines from when Joel was borm (1949) to show that, yup, stuff did indeed happen about then. Despite spending a couple of weeks at #1 in the USA, this song finds itself in a few of those "Worst Song..."-type lists, and it's easy to hear why. The vocal melodies are a bit flat and it's quite a repetitive song. The video was a bit creepy too, starting off in a 50's deco kitchen before changing throughout the years while various family units of that time filter through, all watched by Joel who is like God or something. Personally, I think it's a good song and have liked it since I first heard it at aged 11. The song has also been parodied a number of times by various outlets, most notably The Simpsons.

3) The Downeaster "Alexa" - A song about a fisherman who is feeling the pinch. The wolves are at the door and pickings are slim ("I know there's fish out there, but where God only knows"). It sings of a real life plight common among fisherman as they also tried to gentrify the bay as a yuppie hangout which didn't help. A slow, mardy tune with an accordion, it's an excellent song. Some great singing too,

4) I Go To Extremes - Sounding like the music from a sports movie montage, it was first thought of as a song about a manic depressive, but Joel reckons it's an apology to then-wife Brinkley about his "erratic personality". It's a good song but sounds like it's been done before. I guess the above analogy says it all.

5) Shameless - Trying to capture a Jimi Hendrix vibe (but without the great guitar playing), it's a nice lighters-in-the-air song which probably works live. On record, it's not so good.

6) Storm Front - Returning to a bar-room boogie, albeit a bit more low-key. It's not too bad, to be honest. Not much to write about in this song, other than it's good. May as well take the time to write that the production on this album is excellent, but then you'd expect it to be, given that by now, Joel is a seasoned pro at this stuff.

7) Leningrad - Another big hit off this album. A piano driven ballad about a Russian circus clown called Viktor who Joel met on a recent tour of Russia - then known as the USSR. It not only looks at Viktor's life but at Joel's too, to see how they are both same and yet different. Hey, it may seem like a load of bunkum but this was quite a big deal back then as it was the end of The Cold War, when the world really did seem like it would go up in a nuclear fireball. There was a lot of this stuff going on, all this "Hey, the Reds are actually nice people" schtick. Mind, it all seems to be kicking off again in Ukraine, let's hope that the politicians can all sort out their differences and get things back to normal. As for the song, I happen to like it, although I reckon there will be those who don't. As mentioned, it's an epic piano ballad.

8) State Of Grace - Oh Jesus, I think we've found the stinker of the album. It sounds very stock and like something we've heard many times before. Joel tries his best but it's not as good as what's gone on before. Sorry!

9) When In Rome - Another song with a distinctly 80's flavour, it manages to be quite upbeat and funky! 80's sitcom intro music. Whilst not as good as the majority of what came before, it's still quite good. I guess the song is about having a good time or something. It almost reminds me of 'Loco In Acapulco' in terms of style, vibe and even the key the song is in.

10) And So It Goes - The final track on the album and it's a piano ballad. Bit of an odd way to close an album but whatever floats your boat. Originally written in 1983 (according to wiki), it tells the story of a doomed relationship. Allegedly, with supermodel Elle McPherson who was about 18/19 while Joel was in his mid-30's. Hey, it's better than Woody Allen. But anyway, as you can imagine, it's arelationship that's probably not gonna run well due to the girl still being a teenager whilst the guy is in his mide 30's. The song was originally a demo yet it found its way onto this album eventually, where it resides as track 10. It's qute a decent song, very stripped-down in that it's just a piano and Joel's vocals. Like I said, it's an odd way to close the album but it works, I guess.

All in all, not a bad album. I can't say that I'll definately go out and listen to more of Joel's stuff, but at least I have more respect for him as a musician, singer and songwriter. The only downside of this album is that for a guy looking for a new sound, he tends to stray way too close to many of the conventions at the time, or maybe he'd not used those conventions before. Either way, it's a good album.

7/10 - This is good and well worth a check.

Top Track: The Downeaster "Alexa".

Chris J.

You can get this album on Amazon and listen to it on Spotify.

Spotify link
Amazon link

25 February 2015

Agnes Obel - Philharmonics

Some songs stick with you, some you can't let go, some you play to death, and there are some that reach you from all sorts of places. I first heard this classical trained Danish artist on a KLM YouTube video of an airliner's final flight to Amsterdam, it was also the captain's last too, and her song Riverside was featured in it. Well, it was heavily remixed into a trancey number I'm ashamed to admit, but so captivated by its charms I just had to find out what it was with my mobile's TrackID app. Then thankfully I heard the original stripped-of-its-fittings version, and must confess I loved it much more. Even though I've been brought up on milk and metal (progressive largely), I will concede that I always have a soft spot for some classical pieces.

So the prudent looking Nordic chanteuse on the sleeve? Agnes Obel hails from Copenhagen and no surprises that she was brought up in a large musical family, where her mother was well rehearsed on the piano, her father had accrued some curious musical objects from all over the world. She has also has had it ingrained in her not to play what she doesn't feel comfortable with, and in her debut outing Philharmonics on first impressions it certainly suggests that. Apart from the time it's taken to record, six years seemingly, I can guess that there were no time constraints. Hopefully a good move.

Add. Simplify. I can't remember if it was an advertisement that carried that slogan of which this policy may have been applied, but with Philharmonics, I really don't think it's so simple, and possibly thus the recording length. Still, the first good plus point, and Miss Obel has a welter of good points here, is her voice. Very distinctive, and very sultry, her hushed tones are very bewitching, and deceivingly multi-layered. Second is to be found in her songwriting. She's clearly applied much TLC from pen to microphone to mixing desk which brings me straight onto the third point. The recorded outcome. It's a beautifully crafted piece and it just brings everything together beautifully.

Philharmonics is not the hardcore classical piece that I was expecting. Yes, it is at a minimum, but first track, Falling, Catching has such a captivating hook I feel on first listen that I'm sold. Then, it's that original track I heard on YouTube, Riverside. The harmonics, the rhythm are just so bewitching, it's my guess this track was always destined to be the showpiece on the album. All other tracks are good at best, but this is just on a far higher level. Where I said it wasn't so simple is on the next number, Brother Sparrow, which I find has smacks of Simon and Garfunkel folk traits. It's another track I find so enlightening aside from the classical guitarwork and the same note layered vox.

Interesting introduction in Just So, it feels like it's replicating a nursery rhyme, and again, very spartan instrumentation but you do have to peel the ears for the lyrics, and between-chorus notations to appreciate this. Another good track if it's an acquirable taste, so now onto Beast where harps and harmonies are the order and Agnes' pianowork takes backseat. The chorus, as the remainder of the album I believe has an antiquated feel, perhaps lifted from a Narnia volume. The instrumental Louretta is much more of electronica, a brief two minute opus leading into the second half of Philharmonics, where more electronic piano work is the backdrop for Avenue, very Broadway-ish but with not too much classical layering scrubbed off the face of the earth.

Track number eight is the title track which promises to be slightly more intense, but the onus is more on the tale, where it's a more haunting story. Now onto Close Watch which was originally written by John Cale, and it's a fine version of  the brilliant Velvet Underground song. One of the best tracks too. Third instrumental is Wallflower, there is some cello work accompanying Agnes' ivories and even without the vocals still maintains an air of theatre and drama over it. We're into the final throes of the album now, and Over The Hill is a very pedestrian number but still a good track as it doesn't run too long to be heavily labored. Final track is On Powdered Ground, which is more livelier, ever more intense and has hints of Ray Charles, then towards the end, the harmonics sign off.

I mentioned earlier the length it took to record this album, six years I believe, but the slow burn procedure has been worthwhile. As a classical piece, it's not hardcore and it's better sold on song, and my general appraisal is that it's been a genuine delight to hear someone different, and with such and seductive overtones to boot, it's been a pleasure to have heard this. It mightn't swing me to listen to more in this genre, nor is it the greatest classically orientated album I've heard, but certainly up there in the dizzying echelons.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best Track : Riverside

Buy Philharmonics here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link
Official Agnes Obel website here
Official Agnes Obel Facebook page here

Marilyn Manson - The Pale Emperor

When shock rock becomes less of a shock to the general public, should we all be frozen in shock horror? I'm currently reading the details of this album on Wikipedia, and the genres listed are all rock related, but NO traces of metal from Marilyn Manson? I look upon this with some serious dark forbodings. No seriously. Granted that I'm not a fan of MM himself, and I really haven't listened to too much of his material, he does stand in the mix as an important figure. Notwithstanding his industrial metal makeovers of Personal Jesus and Tainted Love, he has put up some impressive stuff like The Beautiful People, but probably not enough to completely endear me towards his dark realm.

However, it's my sincere hope that Mazza hasn't toned down his act, but as I begin listening to his latest release, his ninth album (or if you want to refer to his name as a band) the metal edge has been whitewashed completely and a far more listenable rock crux has taken over. Like all evergreen rock and metal acts, the best always change as a rule, so hopefully there's scope for optimism. I also know that one thing to be said for MM is that he takes much time and effort on his songwriting and production and here The Pale Emperor seems to follow the Manson ethos.

What's not changed is the electrocharged quality in the production. Some of his earlier material from the 1990s still feel as sharp and dark toned to this date, and The Pale Emperor is no exception. The guitars have far less distortion in the album on the whole and Manson's primal screams have all but disappeared completely. I know it's been almost twenty years since Antichrist Superstar but The Pale Emperor is a stark contrast as evidenced in opening track Killer Strangers. Very slow beat and lyrically very it;s a straightforward commentary on US gun culture. Nothing outlandish although some of the choral loops reminisce of The Tubeway Army. The pace picks up with some rock riffs in Deep Six, the lettering is as academic as its predecessor but the chorus is disturbingly very addictive.

Third Day Of A Seven Day Binge marks resemblance the Zombie's Time Of The Season intro until the song gets underway, a simple tale of escapism and trying to break free of the daily grind. It's been a slow purposeful start, then it's a stronger showing with Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles, very seductive Muse-ish guitars and very grown up, I've enjoyed it. Possibly the least decipherable song is Warship My Wreck which is very hard to comprehend but I can only assume it's about self harm, something MM is no stranger to writing about, nevertheless still compelling. Next track is Slave Only Dreams To Be King, no hollers, no yells on this one either, Manson sings clean right throughout, a la Billy Idol, and wouldn't look out of place in a Generation X album either.

I can see where MM has been pissing off a few faithful of the Bible Belt, and The Devil Beneath My Feet is a potential stab, though probably not as caustic as what Marilyn was doing in the 1990s. Further evidence that he wants to branch out is with Birds Of Hell Awaiting, a blues influenced number with beats borrowed from George Thorogood, rather strange approach which doesn't fully work for me, but thankfully no less menacing. And a good thing too as it's back to the industrial rock with Cupid Carries A Gun with the same tongue lash at the spiritual side of things. In the former days, I would've expected to have chills and despair listening to him, and Odds Of Even despite its lack of pace is a more concerted effort.

In the Deluxe version, there are another handful of songs, but they're basically re-titled acoustic versions of the main billing on The Pale Emperor, which I think on the whole feels a lot less synthetic to what I'm accustomed to hearing from Mazza. The irony is having listened to it a couple of times, I really wanted to give this a damned good mauling for its lack of serration and ill-advised change of musical direction. Yet I'm struggling to do so because you know something? I actually like this as he's lyrically lost none of his edge, and some of the industrial furnishings haven't gone either, so for the time being, it's a tentative nod from me. I could really get full esoteric and sadistic enjoyment this but please Mr. Manson don't scrub too much of your metal side as you should never forget how you got here.

8 out of ten. Oh, now you have my attention, and maybe my money, time and heart.
Best track : Mephistopheles Of Los Angeles

Buy The Pale Emperor here on Amazon
Listen to the album here on Spotify
Deezer listeners click on this link
Official Marilyn Manson Website here
Official Marilyn Manson Facebook page here

24 February 2015

Little Comets - Hope Is Just A State Of Mind

It is uplifting to see bands trying to make it in the world on their own terms - sites like pledge music show bands asking their fans for the funds upfront and when they have reached their target the funds are took and in return, the band will forefill the pledge and give other extras for more funds (such as signed albums, name in credits, house parties, etc).  Sadly due to funds and other complications, I missed out on funding the pledge for this album by North East England indie troupe Little Comets.  I really wanted to get the pledge where you got the albums and the three EP's that were released before the album came out, sadly it was not to be.  Anyway, I also promised myself I would look at the album as soon as I could and with it now being released, I can finally listen to it.  Now I have reviewed Little Comets before and their last album 'Life Is Elsewhere' (cleverly linked here), so I will not be going through a history lesson this time.  It has been three years since their last album, things have obviously changed over that time (such as the band going out on their own for this record), let’s see how they have fared on this album....

“My Boy William” is the first song on the album, I get the feeling that one of the band has recently became a father and is sharing his experiences of parenthood.  With the sound samples of a small child in the background, it does give that impression of a message being given to someone in the future; advice on not losing their innocence and still being able to dream.  It is a very noble sentiment and one that I am sure parents will (hopefully) feel for all of the progeny; it is a decent tune as well, giving this album a very grounded opening, levelled headed opening rooted in the pleasures of home.  “B&B” is the second song of the album, it about being kicked out of the family house when young (possibly in the 80’s as it mentions ship building which has not been on the river Wear for years & Morrissey is mentioned too).  It is a great tune to a very potent set of lyrics, a contrast to the opening song which shows this is not going to be a record with one facet.  “The Gift Of Sound” is an another song from these Mackems which brings to mind a mixture of African sounds, the new indie Vampire Weekend number that was their first calling sound; but with a much more mature and focused vibe.  This does not feel like a step backwards at all, just something that they wanted to release to the world.  The song itself is moving, it might not be as instant as the opening tracks (using the word fizzle was not the best idea, I burst out laughing at first – nice try G’s); but overall it is a song (for me at least) which talks about all forms of sound & music, so they have every right to make it sound like it does.  This is very close to being one of their best songs and so far it is turning out to be a very strong opening to this record.  Track four is called “Formula” is aimed squarely at their critics for their sound – that is plan to see and I love it; honestly as a song to deliver what you feel about the cynical criticism of people who write about what you have done (and I do see the irony of that last part as I write it) is something that bands have done for years (see “Get In The Ring” by Guns ‘N’ Roses on how not to do it), however this shows how to do it with style and a huge hint of scarcasm.  This is a great way to do it, it is clever and shows that the band can stand up for themselves as much as they want.

“Little Italy” bring the album to more familiar territory, starting off with a quiet building guitar opening then lyrics that soother the soul and have hidden meaning.  It is very gentle on the ears and soul to be absolutely honest, you would find more danger in an episode of the Archers, but musically it is also not that far away from their musical roots.  It drifts by and takes a few spins to sink in, not the most immediate of number but I feel that may be by design.  “Daily Grind” is the sixth number of the album, an ode to the woes of the modern world, its trials and tribulations that face a single mother in the choice of work or family.  As I stated earlier, I have a feeling someone in the album may have just achieved parenthood and is coming to terms with it (or they know someone in these situations).  It is a well-played number that bring to focus on that aspect of the experience of life, the music is very quiet and sombre for the most part and treats it subject matter with dignity.  This is followed by a song called “Salt”; this was released as part of an EP last year, back then (for me at least) it seemed to be a step up from the Little Comets and this has not really changed in the months that have past.  It is still one of their best tracks of this album and that the band have produced.  The task of following such a number is never an easy one, in this case it falls to the track “Effetism”; it is a jolly sounding track, but the lyrical black laced barbs of loneliness, despair and depression are in stark contrast to the musical background.  This is such a powerful and emotive number that it actually places “Salt” in the shadow – it is that good.

“Wherewithal” is the ninth number on this album, it is a much louder number than most of what has previously been played on this album and it is needed at this point.  It is still emotionally provoking – the lack of trust with another person, the loss of freedom and emotional slavery on display is still strong on this number; it is really good number that keeps up the good work that has been the calling card of this album so far.  “Fundamental Little Things” is the next number that once again follows a similar path to “Wherewithal”, it is another number that is not a slow ballad/piano focused number, the drums seem to be louder and the vocals are delivered with a bit more of a bite to be honest.  Overall, it is a very strong number at this stage of the album.  Penultimate track “Don’t Fool Yourself” feels like it has been to the disco with that riff – I would say that it was a happy number, but this being the Little Comets there is hidden meanings (or blatant lines) in the lyrics.  It is a great song which could have easily been the ending point of the album – it is a storming number that will have their audience in raptor during their shows.  However, it is not the ending song; no that falls to the wonderfully titled “The Blur, the Lines & the Thickest of Onions”.  It is another of those songs which strips a lot back from the sound, but let’s things drifts back in for effect.  There is a section where lead vocalist is just singing by himself, a part where he is lacing a vocal delivery over some brilliant guitar feedback and playing, the drums come every now and then to the listener, sounds hit from ear to ear and there is a sense that the band is not finished at this point; you get the feeling that they are heading towards the horizon and getting ready for their next record.

When all is settled on this album, it is a very well crafted record and worthy of the praise which has been laid at its feet.  As I write this number, it has entered the top 40 in the UK, which for a small label band is quite an achievement; they have obviously made this with love in their heart and a passion for the music, some of the subject matter is heart breaking and thought provoking as well.  It does not aim to just pass sometime over the weekend, it aims to be an indie album that brings out devotion and is as cherished to their fans as it is to them.  The passion on show here is fantastic, the craftmanship is beautiful and the overall results are one of the best album from these likely lads from Wearside.  As I said at the end, it does not feel like the album ended with a finality, it feels like it they are just getting started.  This is a great record and I would recommend it to anyone.

8.5 out of ten - Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my money, time and heart

Top track - Effetism

You can purchase the digital copy of the album from Amazon here

You can visit the Little Comets website here, there is also a webstore where you can purchase the CD copy of the album directly from the band

Here is a link to the Soundcloud page for Little Comets (it does not have the album, but it is full of good songs)

You can stream the album from Spotify here

Four our Deezer users, here is a link for you

Past sermons

Greatest hits